Book Reviews… How to write them? Just a few of the things I’ve learned over the past couple of years about writing reviews.
If you’re unsure where to start, the first thing to do is read other reviews. See how other reviewers go about it – some write long reviews (my own personal tendency) while others prefer to wrap it up in a few short sentences. Novel Teen is a great review site to look at – they usually have short, fun, to the point reviews!
See what you like about the reviews you’ve read. Did you get enough information from the review? Too much? Was it written in a fun and engaging style? Did it ramble or follow a clear pattern of thought?
Then, after you’ve gathered your thoughts, you can start writing your own!
Synopsis – I’ve generally found it best to start a review with a short synopsis of the story. When I read someone else’s review of a book, I like to know what the story is about. You can either use the backcover synopsis or try and write your own, summarizing the high points of the story and ending with a hook to grab the reader’s attention.
Here’s one I wrote for my review of The Sword in the Stars by Wayne Thomas Batson:
When former assassin Alastair Coldhollow sees the legendary sword appear in the stars, he believes that his quest to proclaim the arrival of the Halfainin – the long promised hero – is about to be fulfilled. There’s just one problem. He can’t seem to find the Halfainin!
Not only that, but he suddenly finds himself playing nursemaid to an abandoned baby. And to top it all off, the past he tried so hard to bury is slowly but surely catching up with him. Danger lurks over Myriad. Mysterious midnight murders and an enemy invasion lead to a kingdom that is arming for war. And yet, the greatest danger always comes from within…
Will the Halfainin arrive in time to save Myriad?
After the synopsis, you can start on your thoughts about the book. Some things to think through as you write your review:
Captivating? – Was the book interesting? Did it keep your attention or were you ready to put it down at the end of each chapter? How was the pace? Fast? Too slow? Dizzying?
The Pros – What did you like about the book? Both specific events and overall?
The Cons – What didn’t you like about the book? Are there any warnings you should give your readers about content that might be inappropriate for certain ages?
The Characters – If you have time, you can discuss the characters. Were they real and believable? Did you care about them?
The Writing – This point can be somewhat subjective since every writer has a different writing style and not all readers connect with the same writing style. There are some authors whose writing style I don’t particularly care for, but I wouldn’t want that to impact my review of the book unless the writing itself is poor quality.
So, rather than focusing on the writing style (unless you have something very positive to say about it), you can focus on the quality of the writing. Was the book well written? Was the writing consistent, did the storyline flow, and the plot line up correctly? If the book was confusing and jumped around a lot between tons of storylines and points of view, you could mention it here.
Spoilers – Anything that gives away an important part of the plot is a Spoiler. Generally, try to avoid spoilers in your review. You want the readers to be able to enjoy the book. But, if you have to include spoilers, be sure to mark them with a SPOILER ALERT so people can decide whether they want to keep reading or not.
Don’t Ramble – Like any sort of writing, your reviews should follow a clear logical progression of thought. You don’t want to make the review confusing for the reader. Keep it ordered with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Themes – Books often have an underlying theme or tone because every writer has a distinct worldview that overflows (sometimes even unconsciously) into their work. Lots of Christian books have overt or hidden Christian and allegorical themes. Often woven in are lessons of self-sacrifice and love reflecting the wonderful love of our Savior. Other books may have more negative themes reflecting different worldviews. These are important to keep an eye out for as you read and can be mentioned in your review.
Summarize – It’s important to tie up your review with a concluding sentence that summarizes your thoughts on the book. Example: “If you don’t get queasy at the sight of blood, then you’ll find So-and-So a great, fast paced thriller, sure to keep you turning the pages and begging for more.“
Recommend? – Be sure to note whether or not you would recommend this book to someone else. This is a good place to include age range as well. If you think the book has some aspects that wouldn’t be appropriate for younger readers, then be sure to mention that. Example: Great read for anyone age 14+ or Not recommended for readers under the age of 12. Explain why – due to mature content or the graphic battle descriptions, etc.
Stars – Lots of places (like Amazon and other online retailers) require a starred review where you assign a certain number of stars based on how much you enjoyed the book. I’ve heard authors say that if you enjoyed the book and didn’t have anything seriously negative to say about it, then don’t give it under 4 stars on Amazon. 3 stars on Amazon looks negative and gives the book a poor review. That said, you want to be honest (next point!) so make sure to tell the truth.
On your own blog, however, feel free to establish your own “stars” standard. For me, 5 stars means it was an incredible book, one that kept my attention all the way through and that I’ll be sure to pick up again and reread. 4 stars – I enjoyed it. Good book! There was just something about the plot or characters that didn’t keep me totally hooked. 3 – Ok book. Probably wouldn’t pick it up again. Something turned me off to the story. 2 – Poorly written book. 1 – I put it down (don’t think I’ve ever had one in this category yet!)
Honesty is the best policy – Always remember to be honest with your reviews. Speak the truth in love! If you didn’t like something about the book, feel free to say it but do it politely. Authors do get about on the web and they do read reviews.
Speaking as an author, I would like to know if there was something someone didn’t like about my book, but I wouldn’t like to see someone trash-talking it. That just hurts. Constructive criticism is key. Your reviews are helping other readers find good books, but they’re also encouraging/helping the author improve his/her craft!
In your review, you can hit all of those points or however many you want to depending on how long you want your review to be!
Any other suggestions? What are some points you hit on in your reviews?